Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain addresses supporters… (Davis Turner, Getty Images )
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, already reeling from sexual harassment claims and rocked anew by allegations of adultery, has told supporters he is preparing to make a major announcement Saturday.
That set off widespread speculation Friday that the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, who briefly enjoyed front-runner status in the Republican presidential campaign, would drop out of the race.
Cain, whose businessman's approach to issues and lack of elective experience appealed to voters weary of career politicians, refused to tip his hand Friday in South Carolina, where he held a town hall meeting with supporters.
"I am reassessing because of all of this media firestorm stuff," he said. "Why? Because my wife and family comes first." He planned to meet with his family, he said, to "clarify ... what the next steps are."
Steve Grubbs, who is running Cain's campaign in Iowa, said he believed Cain would stay in the race.
"As dark as it seems today, we're not out of this thing. I know it," Grubbs said Friday.
Despite Cain's sinking poll numbers, Grubbs said, he believes Cain is still competitive in the state, where a month from now caucus participants will cast the nation's first votes in the 2012 race. "If we could finish in the top three in Iowa," Grubbs said, "then Katie bar the door."
Other political observers were less sanguine, given the varied problems Cain faces.
"I think the indecision coming from this campaign is just killing him," said Craig Robinson, founder of the Iowa Republican, an influential website. The adultery charge has hurt Cain, Robinson said, "but what absolutely killed him here is his inability to articulate the pro-life position and his inability to articulate a position on Libya."
After unexpectedly rising to the top of the polling heap in October, Cain, 65, was beset by the surfacing of old sexual harassment claims that were leveled at him when he ran the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s. Two women received settlements from the organization as a result of their allegations. A third woman, Sharon Bialek, said that Cain sexually groped her when she sought his help finding work in 1997. Cain denied sexually harassing anyone and said he had never met Bialek.
Just as the furor over those allegations began to die down, Ginger White, a 46-year-old Atlanta businesswoman, came forward Monday to allege that she and Cain carried on a 13-year affair that ended shortly before he announced his presidential campaign.
Cain said White was merely a friend in dire financial straits to whom he gave money. On Thursday, he told the Manchester Union Leader that Gloria, his wife of 43 years, did not know about White or that he had given her money. He said he had spoken to his wife since the story broke but had not seen her. Cain is the father of two grown children, and the grandfather of three.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Cain would meet Saturday with donors and supporters before making his announcement.
As rumors swirled about his future, Cain's campaign on Friday went on as though the candidacy would continue. It launched the group Women for Cain and announced that Gloria Cain would serve as national chairwoman.
Cain's rivals for the GOP nomination have mostly avoided commenting on his travails. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., however, was less circumspect. "We've got real issues to talk about, not the latest bimbo eruption," he told the Boston Herald's editorial board, adding that the allegations of an affair created "too much of a cloud."
If Cain were to leave the race, he would become the second major Republican candidate to bow out before the first votes that count were cast. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty left the field in August after a disappointing finish at the Iowa straw poll.